On giving feedback

It’s nearing deadline time at university, and both my housemates and I are frantically writing words, swapping essays and proofreading each other’s work. We are a house that is writing a lot of words – there are six of us, four of which are writing dissertations and four of which have a 5,000 word creative writing project. I’m doing both (glutton for punishment) and am so grateful for the feedback being given to me by my friends. I thought I would share some tips and advice for any of you who do this on a regular basis for friends.

Firstly, check how much feedback they want

My first question is always ‘how harsh am I being?’ Sometimes we send first drafts to each other, in which case it’s more about clarity of argument or continuity issues. Other times it’s a pre-final draft and it’s über red pen time. It’s important to ask this question because there’s nothing more disheartening than getting a page of red pen back on things you already know will be wrong. It takes seconds to ask and will save a lot of fall outs.

Always annotate a print out

Whatever you’re reading it will almost always end up as a hard copy, so read it as such. We make allowances when we read a screen, and some things can be overlooked time and time again. For example, spelling mistakes. Without even thinking we will assume if there are no red dots there are no typos. But remember the invisible mistakes – from and form is a particular one I am constantly missing. Paper also gives you the freedom to annotate in a way that you are most comfortable with.

Be subjective

In creative writing especially it can be hard not to let your personal feelings get in the way. Sure, robot sic-fi isn’t your cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it’s badly written. Always read from an outside point of view. There’s nothing worse than a note at the end that says ‘this isn’t my cup of tea, but it’s good.’ If you don’t like it and can’t read it subjectively, don’t agree to proof it. If you absolutely can’t stomach it be perfectly upfront and honest.

Be honest about your strengths

I have two housemates I regularly exchange work with. One quite honestly tells me ‘I won’t catch the spelling and grammar stuff’. This is fine, she reads for continuity and readability and we both get exactly what we expect. The other, knowing this, focuses particularly on the technical aspects. This gives me a broader reading and I get two very honest feedbacks.

Most importantly, include some positives

This is something I always forget. I will be as critical as people want, focusing on whatever it is they want feedback about, then I send it off and realise there wasn’t a single compliment in there. If I don’t get the chance to talk the feedback over with them (another thing I recommend) I always try to send a follow up message pointing out some positives. It’s a horrid feeling to get something back you’re really proud of and there isn’t a single good thing written down. So remember, even if it’s only a little comment at the end, include some things that work well so they can see where they’re going right.

These are just a few tips and hints I’ve found through trial and error that will hopefully make you a better proofreader and editor of other’s work. Are there any I’ve missed? If there’s anything else you can recommend please comment below.




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